The Dudes Are Alright: How Brooks Brothers Rebranded Tradition
If you were to try and trace the lifeline of the American prep, Brooks Brothers might be your Adam (of “and Eve” fame). Although the company’s current offerings greatly differ from the time when the sons of Henry Sands Brooks took over the company in the mid-1800s, it remains an American institution; clothing some of the best and brightest this country has had to offer.
For decades, The Ivy League and the Golden Fleece symbol were intimately entangled. When you wanted great menswear in New York, you’d visit the Brooks Brothers flagship store; and when “prep” became a dirty word, Brooks Brothers stuck to their laurels.
Still, I’ve only recently found myself buying Brooks Brothers. My prior experiences with the brand weren’t the greatest: my mother forcing me to shop there for my school clothes, my Nana forcing me to wear my dead grandfather’s polo shirts. For more than a decade, I thought of Brooks Brothers the same way I thought of brands like The Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch—companies that had their moments, but had since then shit the bed, making crap for people uninterested in quality.
I was wrong. I made the mistake of looking at Brooks Brothers’ style and tradition and I thought it was boring. While affordable American menswear drifted aimlessly in a sea of polyester and sagging jeans, Brooks Brothers played anchor to ships like Ralph Lauren and J. Crew. The company, founded in 1818, is the conscience of American menswear. Whether we acknowledge it doesn’t matter.
While that’s all well and good, Brooks Brothers’ adherence to certain values doesn’t necessarily keep the money rolling in. Over the last two decades, several companies have incorporated the best parts of the Brooks Brothers brand into their catalogues, introducing them to unlikely customers like trendy Williamsburg types and hip-hop stars. Meanwhile, Brooks Brothers caters mostly to country clubbers and yacht owners, nearly rendering the company irrelevant to consumers under 40; however, they have only recently taken steps to bridge this gap. In 2007, Brooks Brothers introduced the Black Fleece line, a hand-stitched collection of slimmer, shorter and more modern looks; living somewhere between Gay Talese and 1960′s dandy. Now Brooks Brothers has announced the release of a line bearing the school colors and insignias of fifteen esteemed American colleges, including Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt.
These guys are upping their game. According to ESPN, there are about 172 million college sports fans in the U.S. About 20 percent of them earn more than $100,000 a year; 12 percent make $100,000-$150,000; and 8 percent earn more than $150,000. Brooks Brothers is prepared to court this demographic all the way to the bank. As Karl Haller, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Brooks Brothers, told Bloomberg News, “Most of what we position for college students is basic stuff.” Hailer also noted that a great deal of the student body have been observed wearing dress shirts and ties to Southeastern Conference football games. Hailer remarked, “We haven’t given them [students] collegiate suits and ties to wear.”
If this new venture pays off, maybe Brooks Brothers can bring style back to campus, giving students the tools to carry that over with them into the real world. We can only hope.
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